This Day In History: May 18

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An obscure California newspaper casts first lady Mary Todd Lincoln in an unflattering light on May 18, 1861.

Quoting a report in the Sacramento Union, the Humboldt Times recounted a tale of how Mrs. Lincoln had usurped her husband’s presidential duty of appointing federal offices. According to the report, Mary Todd Lincoln, in an effort to help her beleaguered husband deal with a slew of office-seekers, took it upon herself to appoint a stranger—whom she had met on the train—to any office he desired. Mr. W.S. Wood thought he’d like to be superintendent of Public Buildings, not knowing that Lincoln had already given the position to someone else. When Mrs. Lincoln later learned that Wood had been turned away from applying for the job, she assaulted her husband with such a tempest about his ears that he was forced to give Wood the position and dismiss his own choice, a friend from his hometown of Springfield, Illinois.

The unnamed reporter attributed President Lincoln’s hollow cheeks, sunken eyes and woe-begone expression in a great degree to Mrs. Lincoln’s caprices and interference. (He was perhaps forgetting that the country was embroiled in a civil war at the time.) The reporter went on to suggest that Mrs. Lincoln had been smitten with Mr. Wood’s handsome features, luxuriant whiskers and graceful carriage. He also noted reports about her dancing with Wood many times at the Inauguration Ball in 1861 and that she had succumbed to his charm and flattery. The accusations of Mrs. Lincoln’s flirtation with Wood were never substantiated.

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